By the Numbers: A Look at 25 Years of Programmatic Metrics
What follows are a few of the notable metrics of the ESTO portfolio from the last 25 years. From technology advancement and infusions to publications and student involvement, ESTO projects have made significant impacts to NASA and beyond. In 2023, ESTO initiated a comprehensive retrospective study to further catalog and verify past achievements, particularly from early investments. While that effort is likely to add to several of the tallies below, these metrics demonstrate the remarkable success of early technology development through a competitive, peer-review selection process.
A Diversified Portfolio
ESTO technology projects find their origins in a wide range of people and institutions across the country. Principal investigators hail from more than 200 different organizations – from colleges and universities to corporations and non-profits to NASA field centers and Federal labs – in 42 states. More than 2,000 collaborators, co-investigators, and other partners also contribute their expertise, from over 400 organizations in 44 states.
In response to the 44 solicitations ESTO has released since 1998, this community of technologists, engineers, and scientists has supplied an abundance of new ideas and methods for NASA Earth science endeavors. From remote sensing instruments, components, and on-orbit validation to advanced information systems, machine learning, and modeling to highly targeted areas such as quantum sensing, wildfire technologies, and Earth digital twins, the ESTO portfolio addresses the full breadth of Earth science measurements. New technologies on orbit, in the air, or on the ground are helping to improve Earth System science measurement processes, from predictions to observations and initial data collection to analysis and information access.
ESTO makes regular assessments of Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) for most projects in the portfolio, including at the outset of the project, at the final review, and at least annually during the period of funding. (Some projects, particularly studies and operational transition efforts, are not assigned TRLs). The TRL scale (below) provides a useful framework to evaluate the current state of a technology as well as track development progress over time.
In 1998, the NASA Earth Science Division set a goal for ESTO to “annually advance 25% of currently funded technology projects at least one TRL.” This metric has been surpassed every year since and in Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) 31% of active projects advanced at least one TRL. An analysis of all the TRL-reportable projects that have graduated from ESTO funding yields a more complete, and impressive, picture of advancement:
Infusions and Transitions
ESTO principal investigators have reported at least 269 infusions of their technologies into Earth science missions, science campaigns, and other operational or commercial activities. What follows is the breakout of verified infusions since 1998, with examples of major missions and campaigns.
65 projects infused into Earth science flight missions, at NASA and other agencies
NASA mission examples: AQUA, Aquarius, CATS-ISS, CHARM, CLARREO-PF, CSIM-FD, DESDyni/NISAR, EO-1, GPM, GRACE, GRACE-FO, Landsat 8, PACE, SMAP, SWOT, TERRA, TRMM
Examples from other government agencies: COSMIC-2, COSMO-SkyMed, MicroMAS, NOAA/EUMETSAT Sentinel-6
43 projects infused into non-Earth science flight missions, at NASA and other Agencies
NASA mission examples: ALHAT, ARRM, Curiosity Rover, EZIE, NSF Green Bank Telescope, INSPIRE, ISS Raven, Restore-L, RRM3, SDO
Examples from other government agencies: AFRL Mid-Star, Air Force Enterprise Ground System, MicroMAS-2, STP-H5
44 projects infused into NASA Earth Venture (EV)
(79% of Earth Venture selections include ESTO heritage)
EV-Suborbital: ABOVE, ACT-America, ACTIVATE, AirMOSS, ATTREX, CARVE, Delta-X, DISCOVER-AQ, HS3, IMPACTS, NAAMES, OMG, ORACLES, S-MODE
EV-Instrument: ECOSTRESS, GEDI, MAIA, TEMPO, TROPICS, PolSIR
EV-Mission: CYGNSS, GeoCarb, INCUS
EV-Instrument Technology: TEMPEST-D
52 projects infused into airborne science campaigns, at NASA and other organizations
NASA examples: Aeolus Cal/Val, Cloud Radar System, CORAL, CPEX, Cryospheric Science Program, DC3 Field Campaign, GCPEX, GRIP, IceBridge, IceSat Gap Filler, LASE, MB08, MC3E, MIZOPEX, Polar Winds, SMAPVEX ‘08/’20, SnowEX 2020, UAVSAR, University of Guam Freshwater and Coral Project
Examples from other government agencies: Italian Antarctic National Program, NSF-ORCAS, Great Southern CA Shakeout, DoE-TCAP, Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium
Industry example: Chevron Airborne Methane Campaign
56 projects infused into NASA Distributed Archive Data Centers or other data access/ modeling systems, including at other organizations
NASA examples: Analysis Ready Data (ARD), ASDC, Giovanni, GESDISC, NU-WRF, NCCS DASS, ORNL DAAC, PO.DAAC, PROMICE, TCIS, TOPS-NEX
Examples from other government agencies: California Dept of Water Resources, CEOS/GEOSS, Colorado Fire Prediction System (CO-FPS), NOAA ASPEN, NOAA ESRL, NSF Semantic eScience Framework, USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
9 projects transitioned to commercial applications
Examples: Astrium, 3D-Plus, Boeing Next-gen ComSat, Muon Space Mission, Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV)
The transition of ESTO technologies to other sources of funding for further development also occurs regularly. Several hundred projects have transitioned to other NASA programs, other Federal agencies, SBIR awards, or internal funding through the originating organization. ESTO initiated a study in 2023 to further codify these kinds of transitions, and infusions in general, to better understand the paths taken by technology efforts, both before and after ESTO investment.
Publications and Presentations
Just as with basic science research, the sharing of ideas and findings is crucial to the advancement of technology. While many publications by projects in the ESTO portfolio have gone uncounted, particularly in the early years of the program, well over 600 articles on ESTO technologies have appeared in peer-reviewed journals, including in Science, Nature, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Environmental Science and Technology, various journals from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and myriad others.
Conference papers and presentations by ESTO projects – at meetings convened by the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, SPIE, IEEE, and others – number well above 2,500, and are likewise undercounted historically.
ESTO has also hosted a nearly annual conference starting in 2001, now known as the Earth Science Technology Forum, which presents an opportunity for principal investigators to further showcase their work. Over the 19 iterations of this event have been held during the last 23 years, generating some 1,300 presentations to more than 5,000 attendees.
At least 23 patents have been issued for ESTO technologies, including one during FY 2023:
Patent Number: US 11,493,602 B1; Issued: 11/08/2022
Integrated Multi-Wavelength WDM (Wavelength Division Multiplexing) TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) Lidar Transmitter
Guangning Yang and Jeffrey Chen, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
As with many research and development activities, students are integral to the work and success of technology development teams. Since ESTO’s founding, at least 1,180 students from 171 institutions have worked on various ESTO-funded projects. Aided by their experiences, these students have often gone on to work in the aerospace industry and in related fields.
In Fiscal Year 2023 alone, at least 157 students from 48 institutions were involved with active technology development projects. Typically, these students are pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees, but occasionally high school students also have opportunities to participate.
For more ESTO technology impact highlights, visit the 25th Anniversary Project webpage.